Why Doesn’t God Speak to Us Audibly?

Fred Haring, musician, founder of the nonprofit Hope for Hilltribes, and a subscriber to this blog, wrote to ask if I had any thoughts on the question of why God does not speak to us audibly. As I began to think about a response to this question, I knew I wanted to respond to it on my blog as well, (A) because this is such a good question and (B) because I am flattered to have been asked. Thank you, Fred.

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Why does God not speak to people audibly, at least not to people today? There is actually a concrete answer to that question. For God to speak audibly, he needs an incarnation. That is, he needs some kind of material presence, even if it’s a disembodied voice. This need for an incarnation is not his limitation; it’s ours. You and I are embedded in physical reality, so for anything to reach us through our senses, even God’s voice, it has to take some physical form.

Arguably, this very thing has happened. Two thousand years ago, God did speak with an audible voice. That is, during the time he lived as a human being, he spoke with the audible voice of a human.

But I said “arguably,” because not everyone agrees that this was God speaking. While Christians believe Jesus was a man, atheists believe he was only a man. Plenty on either side are ready to argue the point. Even if the world was changed because of who people met and what they experienced in the first century, we all now live within that changed world. We take it for granted, and we have different explanations for what occurred. That is the problem with incarnations.

If God spoke to you with a baritone voice out of the sky, this would still be an incarnation. There would be physical sound waves. There would be some particular sound to the voice that distinguished it from other voices. If you were the first person ever to hear this voice, you might be floored. You might drop to your knees in awe. But what if others had heard the voice before you? After the second or third person had heard it, the news might start to get around. We would all start to accept that a baritone voice in the sky was part of the world we live in. People would propose different theories to explain the baritone voice. There would be different points of view as to how seriously we should take the claim that the baritone voice is God. And if the voice had been speaking for so long that no one remembered when it began, then we would all know nothing other than the existence of this phenomenon.

In such a world, you and I might even prayerfully cry out, Why will You not reveal yourself to us, O God? We search the very sky for You, yet we find nothing there except the sun, the moon, the stars, and the baritone voice….

(That last paragraph was cheeky, but my point is this: There are already amazing things that reach our senses—including amazing things in the sky right above us—and we take them for granted quite easily.)

In my book, I have a chapter titled “The Audacity of Identity.” The fact that you or I exist as an autonomous self, with a life, is the most shocking and inexplicable phenomenon that any of us encounter each day. As I say in the book, I suspect that the realization of our own existence continues to be a shock to each of us when we awaken to it again in the first conscious millisecond of each new day.

Now, think about that self, and think about the extent to which that self’s inner assumptions have changed. If you are a believer, perhaps you can look back on what proved to be a break in your personal outlook and paradigms comparable on its own terms to the shift in history that commenced 20 centuries ago. Could this inner change be manifest evidence? Could this be God speaking?

The outward signs that we can hear or observe are not as valuable as we might expect. Do not base your belief on miracles, that being one possible message that arises from John 2:23-25, a surprising passage of scripture. As this passage describes, people believed in Jesus on the basis of the miracles he performed, and Jesus kept his distance from these people. Belief that comes from being impressed is no belief at all, because desire, fear, or weariness will sooner or later come back to impress us just as much.

Believe in your own belief instead. Recognize your belief as a gift. When you began to believe, did you really make a conscious decision, or were you instead called out and transformed? Think of the man in Mark 9:24 who cried out to Jesus, “I believe! Now help my unbelief!” He recognized the source of belief, and where our belief really comes from.

God chooses people to enter into an experience of eternal truth. God chooses people to see the reality beyond the veil of this world. Grow this belief by treasuring it. God touching you and transforming you was an action that spoke louder than words.

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(PS. God apparently did speak audibly to people in the Old Testament. That is, he did manifest as sound waves. However, this could be seen as being a part of the incarnation I have already mentioned. God spoke audibly to members of his chosen people, the nation of Israel, the nation he had called out into the multigenerational mission that was to culminate in Jesus Christ. In other words, God’s Old Testament audible voice was an incarnation leading to the Incarnation.)